web bug
n. A small, invisible image embedded into an HTML-formatted email message or a website and used to track the activity of users who read the message or visit the site.
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Invisible tags sometimes called Web bugs are widely used in HTML e-mail by marketers and others to detect whether an individual has opened an e-mail message. The Congressional Privacy Caucus has announced plans to hold hearings to investigate the use of Web bugs later this month. Mr. Smith said that it was now clear that JavaScript could be used to create a more powerful Web bug so that not only can someone find out when a message is read, but also what is being said about it.
—Amy Harmon, “A New Trick Gives Snoops Easy Access To E-Mail,” The New York Times, February 05, 2001
1999 (earliest)
Until recently, almost no one but computer specialists had heard about Web bugs, often known in the trade as 'clear GIFs.' But with exploding interest in target marketing on the Internet — and several companies poised to begin identifying computer users by name — Web bugs have suddenly drawn the attention of advertisers, government officials and privacy advocates.
— Robert O'Harrow Jr., “Fearing a Plague of 'Web Bugs'; Invisible Fact-Gathering Code Raises Privacy Concerns,” The Washington Post, November 13, 1999
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